In Brown et al. v. Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin. (May 24, 2013), Residents challenged the approval by the Department of Local Government Finance (the agency responsible for, among other things, approving local budgets and tax rates) of the Gregg Township Board’s loan resolution for the March 1, 2010 assessment date. They alleged that the Department’s decision must be reversed because it was contrary to law, not supported by substantial evidence, and in violation of their constitutional rights. The rural Township contracts with a private volunteer fire department for fire protection services. The Gregg Township Board issued a resolution authorizing the Township to incur a loan for the purchase of a fire engine. Residents objected, arguing the decision was unnecessary and unwise because the current “fire apparatus . . . is sufficient” to provide the needed fire protection services. Slip op. at 2 (citing Cert. Admin. R. at 2.) And Residents argued that Gregg Township residents should not bear the entire cost of the loan because the new fire engine would be used to provide fire protection services for other townships. The DLGF conducted a hearing on the objection petition, during which testimony was received regarding deficiencies in the existing 1992 fire engine. The Department approved the loan in its entirety.
The Department’s decision was not contrary to law. The Township Board’s resolution sought to borrow money under Ind. Code § 36-8-13, which authorizes a township to purchase and maintain firefighting and emergency services apparatus and equipment. It also allows a township to employ personnel to operate the apparatus and equipment. The Department was not required to perform the “needs analysis” required by a separate statutory provision, Ind. Code § 36-6-6-14, before approving the loan resolution.
The Court refused to reweigh the evidence or judge witness credibility. The Department’s decision would be reversed if a “reasonable person, upon reviewing the administrative record in its entirety, could not find enough relevant evidence to support the Township’s loan resolution decision.” Slip op. at 7 (citation omitted). The Court viewed Residents’ argument as an invitation for the Court to reweigh the evidence and judge the credibility of witnesses at the administrative hearing – “invitations not within the Court’s prerogative.” Slip op. at 8 (citation omitted).
Residents’ constitutional arguments remanded. Residents claimed that the Department’s decision violated Article 1, Section 23 and Article 10, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution because it “wrongly requires the taxpayers of Gregg Township to bear the entire cost of the loan even though the fire department will use the new vehicle to respond to calls outside Gregg Township.” Slip op. at 8-9. Article 1, Section 23 prohibits the legislature from granting “any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.” Residents argued that the loan resolution violates this constitutional protection because the taxpayers within the Township will pay the entire bill for a benefit (the fire engine) to be received in part by those outside the Township. Slip op. at 9 n.3. Article 10, Section 1 requires “(1) uniformity and equality in assessment, (2) uniformity and equality as to rate of taxation, and (3) a just valuation for taxation of all property.” Id. Residents asserted that, under this provision, the cost to buy the new fire engine must “be borne, on a pro-rata basis, by all who benefit from its use.” Id. The parties presented competing evidence regarding these arguments, but the Department did not address them in its decision. The Court remanded the decision to allow the Department “to review the evidence, weigh it, and make a determination thereon.” Slip op. at 9.